Tom Longtin, 1940-2020 by Martha Stitelman
A few years after I moved to Vermont, I was fortunate to meet Tom, who became my friend, next-door neighbor, and outdoor guide (along with the rest of the GMC buddies). Having grown up in Bennington, he knew many of the back roads and trails I was hoping to explore, and helped teach me (usually patiently) the skills I would need to get there by foot, ski or bicycle. His signature technique was to get ahead, just out of earshot, so that I couldn’t argue about the route; but he also could set tracks at an easy angle to follow so that I could catch up. We had many trips that I wouldn’t have thought I could do - until I did. We had a couple where I gave up and came home.
One of our most memorable trips occurred in a particularly icy winter, when a persistent boilerplate crust made skiing miserable. Tom took it as a challenge to go mountain biking on regular unstudded tires, slightly underinflated, until he was skilled at picking routes through the lowest contours in the terrain. One day he, Hubey, Birgir Vigsnes and I set off from the Red Mill entrance on the snowmobile trail to the Burning. Three of us skittered and grumbled on skis along the icy packed trail, while Tom nonchalantly and gracefully pedaled through the trees and around the rocks til we got to the Boiler. As we went across a grassy area the crust broke beneath Tom’s front wheel and he did a dismount over the handlebars; the only time I ever saw him leave his bicycle unexpectedly. A few days later he took me biking across Adams reservoir, not a challenging trip for him, just to show me what it was like.
There was always something interesting to see when out with Tom. We skied by the phone lines, pipes and manholes in the old Bennington watershed, bushwhacked up Bald Mtn to discover that the "Yellow Trail" was really the town boundary line, figured out the best way to snowshoe to Boxcar Rocks, and held our breath when meeting a moose in Medburyville. He might tease us by leading a group twice around “Twice Around Peak”, but didn’t hesitate to pull Margie out when she broke through the ice of a Woodford beaver pond. And he was generous with the various things he’d acquired here and there; the last thing he gave me was a long-handled ice scraper with an added foam handle so I could clean out the crevices in the Harmon Hill rock steps.
Tom’s house too contained many amazing artistic creations. A talented computer graphics artist (https://www.arsmathematica.org/is2003/3dsc/tom_longtin.htm) he created sculptures and puzzles in wood, metal, particleboard and plastic, often involving complex geometrical designs and knots. He was active in Bennington’s art community and has had various sculptures exhibited around town.
I hope sometime we can take a group trip in Tom’s memory (suggestions for destination welcome - where do you remember him best?)
Tom was a team player, so long as he got to say who was on his team. Tom was a US Army soldier in Germany, asked not to reenlist as the Vietnam Conflict ramped up. He lived and worked in Germany, traveled to Australia and Central America, and used drink too much. Tom would share his water and snacks when the trip went longer than advertised. (Which they often did.) Tom told a local couple, “You didn’t have to come on this trip.” when they complained about a ski trip tougher than advertised. (One of them bought new skis after that, tho.) Tom often said he was ’not training wheels’, but would help learning a skill he knew if you were willing to be shown his way. If you wanted to learn your limitation, he was your guide.
He preferred to travel in a loop and to explore ‘all new territory’, yet was always willing to point out historic sites, favorite springs, and interesting trees. He slowed down and ranged closer as he passed 75, but an electric-assist mountain bike extended his range. Too bad he didn’t get to ride it longer. Typically for Tom, the stock motor had straight-cut gears instead of the more expensive helical-cut, so he complained about its noise.
Tom was my hiking buddy, my cycling partner, our cross-country skiing friend, and my inspiration to return to dump-picking and dumpster-diving. He told Martha of a house for sale in his backyard, allowing her to downsize and to become his neighbor for 15 years. We saw him most weekends, so he helped us gather firewood, food, and books and strange objects. He made sculptures from scrap metal, then moved onto puzzles and Bennington Monument models of salvaged material.
We shared books and magazines, where he noted typos and other errors in red pen. Yes, he was critical, yes, he was picky, but he was paying attention.
Thanks for listening,
Hubey Folsom Newfane, VT
We moved to Bennington less than 2 years ago, so didn't know Tom as long as many others, but our lives were enriched by the times we spent together. We marveled at the creations in his house; metal sculptures, intricate puzzles, inlaid hardwood flooring cut from his laser printer and the myriad of machines that he used to construct them. We went on numerous hiking and snowshoeing adventures with Tom - and every trip was truly an adventure. He took us places that were unmarked trails (or bushwhacking) and started to learn how the local areas connected together. Most of the pictures below were from winter 2020.
Tom had created his "Beaver Tail" extension for his pickup truck so that he could easily put on and take off snowshoes, spikes, etc.
It was our good fortune to know Tom.
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